by Natalie Atherall | 22 October 2021
Hannah Nicholas is a specialist in the law relating to mental capacity and deprivation of liberty. She has a plethora of experience – from supporting vulnerable people and their families who challenge decisions made by public bodies, to advising the public bodies implementing the legislation.
Hannah considers it her life mission is to ensure that those who are vulnerable are protected and their rights are promoted through the relevant legal frameworks.
Hannah started her trainee legal career at a large city council and found her passion for the law relating to Adult Social Care and Health during this time. Subsequently, she worked for a niche specialist legal aid practice advising patients detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 and represented individuals in Court of Protection proceedings.
Following this, Hannah practiced at a large international law firm advising NHS bodies on the law relating to Mental Capacity and Deprivation of Liberty amongst other things.
Hannah is now a consultant solicitor, as well as founder of Mental Capacity Cat (@thecapacitycat on Twitter).
Natalie Atherall, Senior Consultant at Sellick Partnership, recently sat down with Hannah to discuss the importance of her role.
What does a typical day look like for you?
No two days are the same as a locum adult social care solicitor. As a locum, you are often the person who will be given urgent, pressing cases or complex cases given your expertise. I find that I could be dealing with a Court of Protection case one minute, and then receive a general query regarding safeguarding or mental health matter from someone else. You may have an idea of what your week will look like, but then an urgent referral for Court is required and the to-do list is ultimately scrapped and amended to cater for urgent queries. It’s definitely exciting and rewarding, but I put that down to the area of law rather than what sector I work in, e.g. private/public sector.
You have worked in permanent and locum roles, in both the public sector and private sector. What do you find are the key differences?
Whether you work as a locum or a permanent employee for either private practice or local government, Mental Capacity work involves a lot of flexibility and the ability to adapt to change. What I enjoy most about being a locum is the flexibility it provides; I am generally able to choose the hours I wish to work, whilst taking into account the client’s needs. Working as a locum is definitely more flexible than private practice.
Working within a local authority is very interesting, but also challenging. One of the positives is being creative and resourceful as there is more scope for this approach. In private practice, there is always a focus on billable hours. I find both working in private and public sector rewarding, there is just a different mindset and usual set up with regards to processes and procedures.
What trends have you seen in the last 12-18 months, particularly in relation to the impact from COVID-19?
During the pandemic, there was certainly an increase in general queries around deprivation of liberty, hospital discharges and treatment issue. The Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS) were put on the back burner whilst the focus was to support those with care and support needs through the pandemic. Now, there is a real focus on LPS again given the Codes of Practice is due for public consultation any day now. I am seeing a lot of queries around DOLS/LPS now that the restrictions have lifted and Section 21A challenges to standard authorisations are becoming more prevalent again.
You have been a locum for just over two years now. What do you like in particular about working as a locum?
Ultimately, I decided to locum to explore other career opportunities and hobbies that I did not have the chance to explore fully as a full time employee, as well as travelling. I enjoy Muay Thai and wanted to spend a few months in Thailand. Being a locum provides this flexibility, although unfortunately the pandemic has impacted my ability to travel recently!
In addition, I have set up my training consultancy, Mental Capacity Cat. I am quite a creative person and enjoy digital design and media. I wanted to combine both my passion for Mental Capacity Law, Community Care/Health and Human Rights with my creative outlets, so being a locum provides the flexibility to do this alongside practicing as a solicitor.
Another aspect of being a locum which attracted me was the ability to move around various authorities and see how things work in different areas. Each local authority faces different challenges and you meet some of the most amazing people along the way! I would say I have made friends for life during my time as a locum – although you are not a permanent member of staff, you often find your colleagues and clients become friends by the time you leave!
What do you find is the best part of your job?
Anything Mental Capacity Law is my thing, but the best part of my job is knowing that every day I wake up and help some of the most incredible professionals on the front line every day, supporting people with social or healthcare needs. It’s an absolute honour and privilege to know that the work I do impacts the lives of real people, with real lives, and that I make a positive difference (I hope!) to those who I support and advise.
What advice would you give other legal professionals that are considering working as a locum in the public sector?
I wish I knew that this was an option in the first place! When I first qualified, I came across locums and wondered what it was all about. I wish that being a locum and working in the public sector/local authority was talked about more in university or generally, as it wasn’t until I qualified that I realised this was something I would be able to do. Working in adult social care is fast paced and hard work – but it is also some of the most rewarding work you will ever do!